BUSI­NESS AS USUAL

How In­dia’s growth story con­tin­ues to be driven by pri­vate en­ter­prise

India Today - - LEISURE - By Dhi­raj Nayyar

This year, In­dia marked 20 years of eco­nomic re­forms. It is the per­fect time to pay trib­ute to In­dian en­trepreneur­ship which has proved be­yond rea­son­able doubt that the many ru­mours about its im­mi­nent death, in the face of for­eign com­pe­ti­tion in 1991, were greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. In­dia: The Spirit of En­ter­prise is a won­der­fully pro­duced book, and a fit­ting trib­ute to the en­gine of en­trepreneur­ship, and those who have driven it, in the process pow­er­ing In­dia’s re­mark­able growth story. That In­dian en­trepreneurs have suc­ceeded against the odds—un­like in China there has been very lit­tle ef­fec­tive de­liv­ery by the Govern­ment of pub­lic goods like roads and power—makes their story even more fas­ci­nat­ing.

The only plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for this is the la­tent spirit of en­ter­prise in the peo­ple of In­dia, which found it­self bot­tled up dur­ing two cen­turies of colo­nial­ism and four decades of so­cial­ism. A chap­ter by Tas­neem Suhrawardy traces 5,000 years of In­dian busi­ness from the trad­ing pat­terns of Harappa and Mo­hen­jo­daro, the start of trade with Europe with the ar­rival of the Por­tuguese to the arts and crafts of the Mughal pe­riod right up to the small group of In­dian busi­ness­men who be­gan to man­u­fac­ture un­der the Bri­tish.

Jour­nal­ist Ashok Ma­lik, who has writ­ten much of the text in the book, is even some­what sym­pa­thetic to 40 years of Nehru-in­spired so­cial­ism, point­ing out the build­ing of crit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture—in­clud­ing IITS and IIMS— which was cen­tral to In­dia be­ing able to make a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism in 1991.

The rest of the book tells the story of the key in­dus­try and ser­vices sec­tors which have been the suc­cess sto­ries over the last two decades. More in­ter­est­ingly, it tells the story of in­di­vid­ual en­trepreneurs in dif­fer­ent sec­tors. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the auto and au­to­mo­tive com­po­nents in­dus­try gets top billing. Till date, it re­mains the most promis­ing ex­am­ple of In­dia’s un­ful­filled po­ten­tial as a man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­house. There are some un­usual and wel­come ad­di­tions to the usual list of In­dian suc­cess sto­ries. Apart from IT, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, tele­com and tex­tiles, the book also has fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries on the rise of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor (In­dia is home to at least four world-class ho­tel groups), the me­dia (one of the few coun­tries where print is still boom­ing), and art, which has moved be­yond just M.F. Hu­sain. All the chap­ters have beau­ti­ful pho­tographs that ac­com­pany the text which is em­i­nently ac­ces­si­ble to the gen­eral reader.

This is a largely “happy” book, bar­ring the last chap­ter which high­lights the chal­lenges ahead: in­fra­struc­ture, skills and ur­ban­i­sa­tion. En­trepreneurs are foot­loose. If the In­dia story falters, our en­trepreneurs will go over­seas. The year 2011 has been a good ex­am­ple of that trend. That aside, as T.N. Ni­nan writes in the fore­word, “the fu­ture of the world econ­omy in the com­ing decades will be heav­ily in­flu­enced by what hap­pens in the In­dian mar­ket, and by how In­dian en­trepreneurs shape their global am­bi­tions.” This book is an ex­cel­lent primer for those in­ter­ested in the sub­ject.

A200 GOLD MOHUR MINTED BY THE MUGHALEMPEROR SHAH JA­HAN

( 17TH CEN­TURY)

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